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Occupation Watch June 29-30 News Bulletin

Contrary to the notions of those who might have thought that the crafting of the Bush administration PR strategy on Iraq involved heavy use of a ouija board and frequent calls to psychic hotlines, Peter Baker and Dan Balz report in the Post that it is, in fact, being shaped by "one of the nation's top academic experts on public opinion during wartime." Duke political scientist Peter Feaver and his colleague Christopher Gelpi have concluded, on the basis of focus group polling, that the most important issue in determining public support is not the level of American casualties but perception on whether the war is winnable.

This apparently, say Baker and Balz, dovetails with key Bush aides' assessments that public opinion in the Vietnam War began to turn, again, because politicians began to admit it was unwinnable. And, they say, "Most devastating to public opinion, the advisers believe, are public signs of doubt or pessimism by a president."

The schizophrenia of the Democratic Party's response was perfectly embodied by the comments of a single person, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the course of several paragraphs, he managed to say both, "It was wrong to go into Iraq two years ago, and it is wrong to stay there now" and "We need more troops to stop the infiltration of insurgents from Syria and Iran, possibly a division or brigade stationed on the borders." One suspects that he has not consulted with any well-known political scientists.

Military analyst Anthony Cordesman, in a commentary for UPI, takes apart the speech's claims bit by painful bit.

Fateful Lightning, Followed by Terrible Swift Sword One of the few factual references in President Bush's speech was to the recently concluded Operation Lightning, a counterinsurgency sweep in Baghdad conducted by Iraqi security forces with U.S. forces backing them up.

Awadh al-Taee and Steve Negus report in the Financial Times that some of the thousands of people detained "claim that the campaign is a form of collective punishment against the Sunni community." Muhammed al-Ali, a painter from the town of Abu Ghraib, says he was held for 26 days and repeatedly tortured -- "Wolf Brigade commandos attached electrical wires to his ear and his genitals, and generated a current with a hand-cranked military telephone."

Al-Taee and Negus find that "Mass detentions and indiscriminate torture seem to be the main tools deployed to crush an insurgency that could last 'five, six, eight, 10, 12 years,' according to Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary."

Operation Lightning is being followed up by Operation Sword, back to the west in al-Anbar province. The juxtaposition seems inspired by the lyrics of Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic, sung by Union soldiers as they marched into battle to free the slaves. Frank Griffiths reports for the Associated Press on Op Sword's initial raids in the town of Hit.

Oliver Poole, in the Daily Telegraph, says the Marines describe these Western operations as "chasing ghosts:"

They move into an area known as a haven for jihadists, young men flocking to Iraq to wage holy war, only to find the enemy already gone.

Their Kalashnikovs are left behind, their bomb-making equipment scattered on the floor and food is abandoned, still warm, on the table. But the Americans' targets have vanished to mingle anonymously with Iraqis outside.

The marines have swept through the area hugging the Syrian border in strength twice in the past few months. Both times the operations followed a similar pattern: the US military moved in and then, after an initial burst of defiance, the enemy melted away.

The American troops returned to their base. And their foes then returned to resume where they left off.

The Centre Cannot Hold Edward Wong reports in the New York Times on a "cadre of powerful, mostly secular Shiite politicians" that is pushing for autonomy for southern Iraq. These politicians include Ahmad Chalabi, fellow parliamentarian Sheik Abdul Kareem al-Muhammadawi, and others. They "worry about the rise of another authoritarian [central] government, perhaps a conservative Islamic one." They also say that, despite its large reserves of oil, under Saddam, the region did not get its fair share of oil revenues.

They plan a regional vote on the question of autonomy at the same time as the national referendum on the constitution; the major Kurdish parties have said they will support the call for autonomy if that's how the vote turns out.

Moqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Muhammad al-Yacoubi, a friend of Moqtada's martyred father and head of the new Fadilah (Virtue) Party, oppose autonomy.

Life in Iraq Carol Williams reports in the Los Angeles Times on a drastic deterioration in air quality in Iraq due to the proliferation of diesel-fuel-powered electric generators and of cars. Raad Mohammed Saleh, head of the Environment Ministry's air quality department, says power plants are producing 65% of pre-invasion output and that the level of contaminants in the air is fully twice that before the regime change. This has caused a "dramatic increase" in asthma and bronchitis.

And, in the Christian Science Monitor, Annia Ciezadlo writes about skyrocketing maternal mortality rates -- the last time it could be measured, in the fall of 2003, it was 370 per 100,000, thrice the 1990 rate and 31 times the U.S. rate.

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